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Highlights from flood meeting in Upper Pontiac

CALEB NICKERSON
Allumettes island
June 17, 2019
On June 17, a crowd of several hundred people gathered at St. Joseph’s Municipal Hall on Allumettes Island for a meeting in response to this spring’s flooding, which decimated many communities in the region. The reason for the meeting, according to Allumettes Mayor Winston Sunstrum, was to share information and organize a unified response.
He noted that representatives from Hydro Quebec and the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (ORRPB) were invited but weren’t able to attend, which drew a big laugh from the audience.

Also present were Chichester Mayor Donald Gagnon, Sheenboro Mayor Doris Ranger, Grand Calumet Island Mayor Serge Newberry, Mansfield et Pontefract Mayor Gilles Dionne and Pontiac Warden Jane Toller.
Sunstrum said that local officials had been in contact with Pontiac MNA André Fortin and MP Will Amos, who both had office representatives at the meeting, and said they offered their full cooperation.
Sunstrum said that in order to get answers from gargantuan organizations like those that manage the river, they need to build partnerships. He compared it to his municipality’s longstanding issues with power outages, which required them to seek several meetings with upper management.
“We’ve gone up against Hydro Quebec before,” he said. “We’ve made some inroads there and had an impact there so we’ll use a similar type of process here, if the audience agrees tonight.”
“We need to make a lot of noise, starting tonight,” he added.
Fr. Tim Moyle, who owns a cottage on Allumettes that was affected by the flooding, was the next speaker up and gave an overview of the class-action lawsuit he’s organizing that already has more than 200 people signed up.
“I’ve contracted the services of a law firm in Ottawa,” he said. “They have a lot of expertise in dealing with these types of insurance issues and property issues.”
He said the lawsuit was for anyone that suffered damage or a devaluation of their property or business as a result of the floods and would seek to pin the blame for the flooding on the actions or inaction of the river regulator.
Moyle gave out his email (frtimmoylepp@gmail.com) to those that were interested in signing up, adding there was currently no cost to join.
Toller was up next and outlined the local government’s response to the flooding, which was to request scientific, independent inquiry into the management of the river.
“This disaster that has hit the Pontiac is probably the worst, other than the closure of the mills ten years ago, which led to massive unemployment,” she opened. “The Pontiac is devitalized. We’re struggling, we’re trying our best to move forward and we really did not need this flood.”
She shared that she had personally been evacuated from her home on April 28, and said that she could relate with the crowd’s frustration. She added that she was planning on raising her house seven feet.
Toller noted that the area was hit as hard as any, but due to the small size and isolated location it doesn’t receive the attention it deserves from regional authorities.
“I heard them whining away down in Gatineau that they had 2,000 homes affected but that is out of a population of 285,000,” she said. “We had 1,000 out of a population of 14,200.”
She went on to add that another barrier in the provincial compensation plan is that it only applies to full-time Quebec residents. She called the rules a form of “discrimination,” as the seasonal cottage community makes up an enormous portion of the Pontiac’s tax base. She presented a resolution that would not only request an inquiry, but would also request that the government amend its compensation rules to include cottagers and out of province property owners, as well as raising the compensation limits to the market value of homes.
“It is crucially important to us that we find a way that you can stay here,” she said to the crowd. “The tax base that you’ve provided is what keeps the Pontiac going.”
She called the flooding unacceptable, and said she had been discussing solutions to alleviate future damage with representatives from the ORRPB. She said they would be requesting that the inquiry look at the possibility of expanding the river’s reservoir system, to manage the water more effectively.
MRC Fire and Public Safety Coordinator Julien Gagnon closed out the meeting by answering questions about assessments. He said property owners hit by the floods would receive a lower tax bill due to depreciation in the value of their homes and land, and would be credited depending on when their property was reassessed in the three year cycle.
“They will deduct that from your tax assessment,” he said, encouraging everyone to document as much as they can and to contact their municipality with any concerns.
Many residents spoke about their difficulty getting a hold of the Ministry of Public Security (MSP) to open their compensation claims. Sunstrum said that the MSP would have representatives in Waltham on June 26 and 27 and added that residents would receive a call for their appointment time.